Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009
Elizabeth A. Bennion
2009 W. George Pinnell Awards for Outstanding Service
Associate Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
University Graduate School
Indiana University South Bend
"Be the change you want to see in the world." This quotation from Mahatma Gandhi is one of several quotes that political science professor Elizabeth Bennion believes summarize her approach to service. Her colleagues agree: Bennion models the civic engagement she wishes to nurture in her students and members of the community.
"Many of us in political science spend a great deal of our time studying individuals who devote themselves to a life of public service," says Neovi M. Karakatsanis, chair and associate professor in IU South Bend's Department of Political Science. "Elizabeth, by contrast, does not only study and teach civic engagement, but has actually devoted herself to doing it."
As director of the American Democracy Project (ADP) -- a national civic engagement initiative that she has championed at IU South Bend since 2004 -- Bennion works with faculty, staff, students and community members to plan civic-oriented events ranging from the campus's annual Democracy Plaza celebration to lectures, films, debates and forums that highlight local, national and international political issues.
"In all cases," she says, "these events are designed to inspire and provoke thoughtful dialogue -- a sharing and open discussion of diverse viewpoints as a model for civic dialogue and engagement."
Each primary and general election since 2002, Bennion has led volunteers from the Political Science Club (which she advises) in registering and educating voters. She and her students have registered more than 1,000 voters and supplied countless others with voter information.
"Thanks to her tireless efforts, students from across the disciplines are better informed about democratic principles, about the functionality of the branches of government, about the Constitution, and about the responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society," says Alfred J. Guillaume Jr., vice chancellor for academic affairs at IU South Bend.
Bennion also educates voters well beyond campus. She is vice president and grant coordinator for the League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area, and she has been interviewed by local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations more than 80 times about political news, issues, and elections. "Without her insight, it is my sincere belief that voters, taxpayers, and citizens across the region would not have been as well informed or well served when they cast their ballots [last] year," says Troy Kehoe, a reporter for WSBT-TV.
Bennion has long promoted teaching excellence and the value of interdisciplinary programs. She has served on the advisory board for IU South Bend's University Center for Excellence in Teaching since 2001, and she was on the planning committee for the Midwest Conference on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning from 2003 to 2007. She also trains high school teachers statewide to teach advanced political science courses through IU's Advance College Project.
Within the political science discipline, Bennion has been a leader in increasing the emphasis placed on teaching and on helping women succeed in political science careers. She is secretary and membership chair of the Women's Caucus for Political Science, and she has held several positions for the Midwest Women's Caucus for Political Science, including president.
Kenneth A. Smith, associate professor of English at IU South Bend, says Bennion is an exemplar of service."Through her usual teaching duties, her scholarship, her collaborative research, her public writing and her service to campus and community," he said, "she has created new knowledge about our democracy, brought hundreds of area residents into the public arena for the exchange of ideas and information on our campus, and given our students new confidence in their ability to participate well as active citizens."